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The Habs contract talks are heating up for defensemen P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov, and Raphael Diaz. Only Josh Gorges, Davis Drewiske, and Alexei Emelin, who recently signed a four-year deal, are under contract next season. GM Marc Bergevin is meeting with player agents to see just how much it will cost the Canadiens to keep these players around.

While there are plenty of defensemen hitting free agency on July 1, 2014, few match the credentials of the Habs own pending free agents. Furthermore, developing from within and maintaining assets is the most affordable method to working in a salary cap system. So why not lock up the blueliners already in Canadiens’ uniforms, guys who are already settled in Montreal and more likely to sign at reasonable prices?

P.K. Subban

Of the players seeking new contracts, the richest will be Subban. Scheduled to be a Restriced Free Agent at season’s end, Subban is coming off a Norris Trophy winning season. With 17 points through the Habs first 19 games this season, he’s on pace to be in contend for the award again.

But just how much and how long should he re-sign for? It’s expected he’ll sign for anywhere between $6.5 million and $8 million dollars. While it’s possible we’ll see the 24-year-old kept on for the maximum $8 million over an 8-year term, GM Bergevin will do what he can to reduce that amount.

Subban has been the topic of heated discussion throughout Montreal media and fan base. Many have questioned whether or not there is a divide between Therrien and the team’s star defender due to limited ice time and the coach’s refusal to use Subban on the penalty-kill.

In recent games, Subban’s time on ice has been raised to acceptable numbers, but the question remains if 76 is still happy in Montreal playing for Therrien. That question will be answered as the ink dries on a new contract.

If Subban opts for a short-term two-year deal, he’d be an unrestricted free agent at its conclusion and free to sign anywhere in the league he wants. A shorter deal could mean that the defenceman would prefer to cash in on the open market, even if that means leaving the Habs.

It’s in the Canadiens’ best interest to sign him long-term. Any deal signed today will be a bargain in the future as the salary cap and contract prices rise with league-wide inflation.

P.K. Subban is legit and he will be a perennial Norris Trophy candidate. There’s no point in postponing it any longer. Get ‘er done, Marc.

Raphael Diaz

With word of preliminary talks with Subban, news broke that Diaz was also touching base with Habs GM Marc Bergevin. Diaz is scheduled to become an UFA at season’s end and it will be interesting to see what price the defender is seeking to remain in Montreal.

Working in Diaz’ favour is his ability to play on the second wave of the Habs power-play. After Markov and Subban, there aren’t many offensively minded defenseman on the team capable of quarterbacking the attack.

It’s unlikely Bergevin will want to lose Diaz for nothing via free agency, so re-signing him makes sense. If he’s ultimately passed on the depth chart, the option to trade him for an asset will be available. I’m sure there are many teams around the NHL that would covet his talent to bolster their offense from the backend.

Under his current contract, Diaz is earning a modest $1.225 million dollars. With a raise in mind somewhere in the $2.5 million to $3.5 million dollar range, the 27-year-old will also be looking for term. It would be surprising if Bergevin was willing to re-sign Diaz for four-years or more. Rather, an ideal contract would be in the two-year range.

If they can’t agree, it’s possible we’ll see the Swiss defender moved before the deadline or during the off-season.

Andrei Markov

CBC’s Elliotte Friedman reported that Andrei Markov is changing agents in anticipation of signing a new contact.

Like Diaz, Markov is slated for unrestricted free agency this year. However, his situation differs in that Markov will be in the 35 and over club and has a recent history of serious knee injuries. Contracts signed by players over the age of 35 will count against the cap whether or not they’re playing.

It’s high risk, high reward with Markov, who has played intelligent hockey through 19 games this season. While the 34-year-old doesn’t have the speed he once possessed, he makes up for it with a cerebral game that focuses on strong positional play.

After struggling as Diaz’ defense partner early in the season, Markov’s play improved when he was paired with P.K. Subban to compete the teams top pairing. The Russian’s power-play abilities are key to its success, often feeding P.K. for long bombs from the point or finding Tomas Plekanec in the slot with precision passes.

It’s tough to gage how much money Markov will seek to remain in Montreal. The price tag could come in anywhere from $4 million dollars to a rich $6 million. Given his age, the best course of action might be to re-sign him to a front-loaded contract where he’ll make more money in the first year(s) but much less toward the end it.

Ideally the Canadiens will want to work out a two-year deal, but with Markov likely seeking to compete his career with the Habs, he’ll want more term in the three- to four-year range. The Habs may opt for a wait-and-see approach before re-signing him, to ensure he doesn’t wear down throughout the long season.

Alternatives / Depth

With a number of prospects playing in the AHL with the Hamilton Bulldogs, it gives Bergevin some wiggle room if he decides not to sign all of his pending free agents. Among them are former first round picks Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu, both of which could see more action with the team later this season if injuries arise.

Some dark horse candidates to work their way up the depth chart are Greg Pateryn and Magnus Nygren. Pateryn isn’t afraid to play a physical game and his offensive abilities are underrated.

While playing in Sweden last year, Nygren won the Salming Trophy as his league’s best defenseman – the NHL’s Norris Trophy equivalent for Elitserien. Both players are putting up decent numbers thus far with the Bulldogs.

The Habs contract talks may be heating up for some, but veterans Francis Bouillon and Douglas Murray will have to wait until the off-season to see where they stand in the organization. With both their contracts expiring at the end of the year, it could be in Bergevin’s best interest to save some money and push forward with the young defense available in Hamilton.